The marshrutka, not to be confused with the matryoshka, those famous Russian dolls (although you can also put many people inside), is a very important means of transportation to use in Eastern Europe.
The marshrutkas are hop-off and hop-on mini-buses locals use, at first glance, in a completely random way, but that is actually super organised.
In Minsk, you can find the marshrutka next to the city’s official bus stops, where they offer faster connections than the traditional public transports – buses, trolleybuses, tramways, metro.
For example, I live in the Loshitsa neighborhood, in the South of the capital city. It’s so far away that people make this strange face when I tell them where I live, and start to feel sorry for me.
To go home, I can take the bus for 40 minutes, or use the express line of the marshrutka and be there in 20. Those connections are somewhere between the bus and taxi on the financial and comfort levels.
Marshrutkas are also a cheap way to travel inside the country. They follow the same lines as long-line buses or trains, they are faster and have additional hours and stops on the way.
More on the topic:
For those who have experienced it, the marshrutka, although very practical in theory, it does come with its own drawbacks, especially for foreigners.
How to pronounce the word marshrutka? Where to take my marshrutka? What is the number of my marshrutka? How can I find the schedule? How should I pay?
What should I do in case of a full marshrutka? To answer these questions, here is my little guide for a peaceful marshroutkanian adventure (well, as peaceful as possible).
Do your homework
Check online the routes and schedules for the marshrutka. I use wiki routes for Minsk! If possible, you can go to the place of the marshrutka-stop to check the schedule and observe the process from the outside.
Ask for help
Be at the right place at the right time, which means, in advance. Observe the numbers and destinations displayed on the coming marshrutkas.
Ask people around you or the driver if you are in the right marshrutka. Just say the name with a worried face or show a piece of paper with the name of your destination
I would like to focus on this particular point: don’t hesitate to ask people. Even if they don’t speak English, they will help you.
You might not get super friendly reactions, that’s okay, Belarusians are very welcoming people but sometimes, you need to deserve it.
Most of the time, when asking your way in a marshrutka, you may be a little bit yelled at, or mocked, but deep down, it’s always in a nice way (well, I think so).
In marshrutka, say your destination to the driver if necessary (prices depend on the distance), and give him (I’ve never met a female driver) *the right amount of money.
The marshrutka driver is very often busy with multiples phones, coins, tickets, so it’s better if he doesn’t need to give you the change.
If you are sitting at the back of the marshrutka, give your money to the person in front of you, who will do the same until your rubles get to the driver.
Say «один билет» (adine bilète) for one ticket, «два билета» (dva biléta) for two tickets, and for 5 or more tickets you need to ask for «X билетов» (X bilétov), but that’s another story.
Don’t understand how much you should pay? Look around – the price is often displayed somewhere inside the vehicle. If you didn’t find the info, just give 5 rubles, and get the change.
Seat comfortably in one of the available seat, the one you like. If there is no seat available anymore, look better: there can be two free seats next to the driver or extra seats in the central valley.
Really no more space? Then you’ll have to stand and be patient. Most importantly, when you see your stop, scream.
I don’t count the kilometers I’ve been walking anymore because I didn’t dare to say stop to the driver. Bon, voyage!
*As of 25 April, the price of the ticket is BYN 1-2 (~$0,5-$1)
Text by Ingrid Ponsy; Featured image: Paola Escobar